celebrates his game-winning basket. (Hector Gabino/El Nuevo Herald/MCT via Getty Images)
By Rob Mahoney
The Warriors didn't just keep pace with the Heat on Wednesday night -- they actively pushed Miami at every turn, kept the margin close throughout and took a final lead with 0.9 seconds remaining to clinch a declarative 97-95 victory. Golden State improved to 5-0 on its seven-game road trip and 15-7 overall, one game behind the Clippers for the Pacific Division lead. This is the Warriors' first five-game road winning streak since 2005.
• The game-winning basket came courtesy of rookie forward Draymond Green, who had made just one other field goal (on five attempts) for the evening, was shooting 28.2 percent entering the game and had gone 0-for-8 in the Warriors' previous outing. It's been a rough offensive season for Green to say the least, but Jarrett Jack and the Warriors' deadeye shooters -- who drew all kinds of defensive attention with their curls around the perimeter -- made it easy for him:
In a postgame interview, David Lee confessed that Green wasn't exactly a primary option. The Warriors were certainly aware of the fact that Miami would be focused on Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry as they darted toward the ball, but it appears that Green just made a well-timed slip on his screen rather than some prescripted move, and Jack read the play perfectly to set him up at the last possible second. This play very nearly ended with a brief Jack isolation against LeBron James just inside the three-point line, but Shane Battier strayed too far from his man and Green was too keen on the possibility of springing open. There are plenty of big men who would go through the motions in a scenario like this one, content in the knowledge that one of the team's prime scorers would be hoisting up a difficult look as the buzzer sounded. Yet the joint play by Green and Jack demonstrates an impressive level of awareness, undoubtedly informed by the Warriors' more general sense of offensive balance.
• But lest we forget: Green would have never sprung open in the first place had Thompson not been in top shooting form. The second-year sniper scored a season-high 27 points on 21 shots (including 5-of-13 shooting from beyond the arc) and had drawn the Heat into a similar level of defensive pressure as the game progressed. For the most part, Miami succeeded in blanketing Thompson after his first-quarter salvo; he was still able to spring free at times on the weak side wing, but dedicating James as Thompson's on-ball defender while also double-teaming him on the catch in spots did well to curtail his explosive scoring.
But before Miami made those adjustments (and in the cases where James wasn't able to cover him), Thompson had a field day. He beat his initial defender off the dribble on many occasions and acted as a legitimate dribble-drive threat. His early spot-ups cashed in beautifully on Miami's over-rotation. And the rest of the Warriors made their usual on-point passes to reward Thompson's relentless cuts and curls without the ball. All of that work yielded a healthy portion of Golden State's overall scoring, but also provided the necessary backdrop for a final play in which the heady Battier was lured into leaving his man wide open for the sake of denying Thompson.
• This game began as a riveting, offense-driven affair, with both squads intent on pushing the pace and moving the ball. It should go without saying that any team would be at its best under those conditions, and both the Heat and Warriors were able to make their opponent's defense squirm with quickly executed play actions and a flurry of productive passing. But by the second half, both teams were committing unforced errors on completely pedestrian plays, best exemplified by a baffling series of post feeds and swing passes thrown into the front row on both ends of the court. Miami has the talent to overcome those kinds of mental lapses, but on this night Jack introduced a wild card element -- an efficient scorer on contested mid-range jumpers and broken plays, to the tune of a solid 20 points.
Meanwhile, the Heat almost voluntarily bogged down their offense in the third quarter to put James in a position to take his defender one-on-one. That strategy produced points on a fairly regular basis (James finished with 31 points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field), but it also kept the offense out of rhythm after the aforementioned miscues and prevented Miami from establishing the momentum necessary to build a more sizable lead. Effort wasn't the issue, so much as focus; the Heat lost track of the root of their offensive success as the game wore on, and the Warriors took advantage of another mucked-up game in the same improbable way that they have so many times this season. That the Heat were still able to create open go-ahead looks for both Battier and Ray Allen in the final minute almost seems beside the point; Miami should have done more early work and kept a win out of the Warriors' reach, but instead rode out the game until the final possession and allowed a hot team to take advantage of its generosity.
H/T on the video: @cjzero.